Critique of TGC Article: How Does a Mom Pray as a Calvinist?

The Gospel Coalition recently published an article written by Courtney Reissig titled, How Does a Mom Pray as a Calvinist?  This article was written in direct response to my interview with Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia. In this post I would like to provide a cordial but direct response to several key points raised in this TGC article (represented in blue):

Andy Stanley—senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta—posed several questions as he critiqued Calvinism from several angles. In one particular segment, he talked specifically about women, and from his vantage point women are less vocal about their belief in God’s sovereignty in salvation because of how harsh it sounds (to him). 

I think it should be noted that the unique claims of Calvinists not only sound harsh to Andy and other non-Calvinistic believers, but even many Calvinistic scholars and pastors are on record confessing their feelings of disdain for the doctrine of reprobation, which is defined this way by Calvinistic scholar, RC Sproul, of Ligonier ministries:

If only some people are predestined to be saved, then it logically must follow that other people are not. The doctrine of predestination to salvation is called the doctrine of election, and the doctrine of predestination to damnation is called the doctrine of reprobation. <link>

In the Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin himself declared, “The decree [of reprobation], I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny…” Calvinistic Pastor, John Piper, preached a message confessing that he was tormented and wept for three days when first confronted with these teachings. Calvinistic Pastor JD Hall did a podcast about the “stages of grief” one must go through when first introduced to Calvinism. And Calvinistic Pastor Matt Chandler spoke of TULIP being an “itchy blanket” for a time before it finally became warm and comfortable. <link>

There are testimonials of many notable Calvinists reflecting on this struggle and quite frankly, they would have to be heartless not to somewhat recoil at the thought that God may have chosen to condemn to eternal hell one of their own children before the child was born and had done anything good or bad. It seems to me that this author is not willing to own up to the harsh reality that other Calvinistic scholars have openly confessed, but instead puts it off as something uniquely felt by Andy and other non-Calvinists.

Mothers, he said, would have a hard time reconciling their maternal instinct to protect, care for, and provide for their child with a view of salvation that, as he sees it, provides little assurance that they will be saved.

Again, is this merely “as he [Andy] sees it” or is it a reality given the claims of the Calvinistic worldview? In a rather moving and heartfelt message, John Piper concluded with these words…

“But I am not ignorant that God may not have chosen my sons for his sons.  And though I think I would give my life for their salvation, if they should be lost to me, I would not rail against the almighty.  He is God.  I am but a man.  The potter has absolute rights over the clay.   Mine is to bow before his unimpeachable character and believe that the Judge of all the earth has ever and always will do right.”

Notice that he confesses the lack of assurance that his sons are savingly loved by God. He admits the destiny of his own sons is something he, as their father, really has no influence on and therefore rests on the hope that they are numbered among the relatively few who are arbitrary selected before the foundation of the world.

Stanley rightly appeals to maternal instinct. A mother’s heart pulls at her in powerful ways. Why wouldn’t it? She’s created in God’s image, a God  who cited a nursing mother when he wanted to show Israel how they could trust him (Isa. 49:15). If a nursing mother can’t forget her child, how much more can God whose image she bears? Even if she does, Isaiah says, God won’t forget you.

When Jesus longed for his people to repent and believe, he said this:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:14)

Even the apostle Paul used nursing-mother imagery to talk about his tender care for the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:7).

The maternal instinct is strong. It makes you do things you never thought you would or could do. It’s Godlike.

There are several issues that stand out in this section of the article. First, if God is “sovereignly controlling” their willingness or unwillingness, then what is the point of “Jesus’ longing” recorded for us numerous times throughout the scriptures? Is Jesus just pretending to want people He really doesn’t want, or that He really didn’t die for?

Second, how does this motherly comparison to God apply in a discussion about the likelihood that a particular mother may have an actual child who God has unchangeably elected for reprobation? In this instance the mother would be MORE not less self-sacrificially loving than God.

So I trust God in the care of my children, because he’s good, and he gave me (an image) to my children to tell the world what he is like… The clarity of Jesus’s words is striking and sobering. He’s in utter control, both of the means of salvation and also the sustaining grace that keeps us to the end. Perhaps this would be terrifying, as Stanley asserts, if you don’t know the character of the one telling you how this will all play out. But we know the character of God, who preserved his people through many tribulations and endured the ultimate trial on our behalf. We can trust him with our very lives, and with the lives of our beloved children.

What does it mean to say that God is good? What is it about the character of God that would cause us to trust him with the care of our children? Consider two potential caregivers:

  1. A caregiver that genuinely loves and takes good care of some of the children entrusted to him, but also uses a good portion of the children for his own pleasure at their expense and without regard to their well being.
  2. A caregiver that genuinely loves all the children, provides for them and desires the best for each one of them. And he takes good care of all the children entrusted to him so long as they do what he asks.

What is “terrifying” to Andy (and those of us who are objectively viewing God’s character from the Calvinistic vantage point) is that God, on Calvinism, is glorifying Himself even if it means the sacrifice of most people. He reprobates a good number of children, all of whom have mothers, for His own pleasure without any regard to that child’s choices or his parent’s nurturing care. Can we really call that “good?” If so, by what standard?

A Better Way

God does not sacrifice creation for the sake of His own glory, but instead He sacrifices Himself for sake of His creation, which in turn reveals Him as the most glorious of all. It is the selfless motive of Christ’s sacrifice that brings Him so much glory. To in anyway undermine the selflessness of the Divine motive actually undermines the very thing that makes His grace so glorious.

Dr. Jerry Walls summarized this issue quite well by appealing to the biblical teaching of John Wesley:

John Wesley underscored the fact that our theology will go off the rails if we do not keep squarely in mind that God’s very nature is love.

“It is not written, ‘God is justice,’ or ‘God is truth.’ [Although he is just and true in all his ways.] But it is written, ‘God is love,’ love in the abstract, without bounds; and ‘there is no end of his goodness.’  His love extends even to those who neither love nor fear him.  He is good, even to the evil and the unthankful; yea, without any exception or limitation, to all the children of men.  For ‘the Lord is loving [or good] to every man, and his mercy is over all his works.’”

Now I think we are in position to clearly see the heart of the difference between Wesleyan theology and Calvinist theology.  The fundamental difference lies in how we understand the character and love of God.  For the Wesleyan, the fact that God’s very nature is love means that he truly loves all persons and desires their salvation.  He does everything he can to save all persons, short of overriding their freedom.  For the Calvinist, by contrast, love is a sovereign choice, which means he gives his grace to some but not to others.  He sovereignly chooses to save some among the mass of fallen sinners, but leaves the rest in their fallen condition, thereby consigning them to eternal damnation…

Again, the difference between Wesleyan theology and Calvinist theology could hardly be more profound at this point.  The idea that God might need to damn many people, even if they could be saved with their freedom intact (as Calvinists understand freedom) is utterly at odds with the biblical picture of God, who loved us while we were yet sinners, and gave his Son for our salvation.  As Wesleyans see it, God’s extraordinary love demonstrated most fully in Christ, and offered freely and truly to all persons displays his glory most clearly.  God does not need any to be damned for his glory fully to be displayed.  Those who are lost are lost entirely by their free choice to reject God’s glorious love and grace.

Wesleyans and Calvinists radically disagree, then, about the character of God, and how his glory is displayed.  This is the issue we need to keep squarely in focus as we discuss and debate the vital biblical doctrines of sovereignty, predestination and election. <link>

474 thoughts on “Critique of TGC Article: How Does a Mom Pray as a Calvinist?

  1. “Esau became a believer – Gen 33:4, 10”
    ——–Here’s My Response——

    Brian, I really find difficulty to believe what you have said that “Esau became a believer”. I read carefully the passage you have cited and to my understanding that verse has something to say about:

    1. The reconciliation of Esau and Jacob
    2. The passage has nothing to say that He is saved because its not within the context.
    3. Esau-the Father of the Edomites shall be utterly destroyed according to:

    a. Esau’s repentance was not genuine according to Heb. 12:17 “For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”

    b. Obadiah 1:3 “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who (Esau-Edom) dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; you (Esau-Edom) who say in your heart, ; “Who will bring me down to the ground” …. (Esau-Edomites became so proud of himself just like Lucifer’s pride)

    c. Obadiah 1:4 “Thou you ascend as high as an eagle, even though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down to the ground.” (This is the declaration of God to Esau-Edomites)

    d. Obadiah 1:18 “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them, and NO SURVIVOR SHALL REMAIN IN THE HOUSE OF ESAU, for the Lord has spoken.”

    (This verse is a prophecy as to what will happen to Esau and his descendants. God will use the house of Israel and the house of Joseph to annihilate Esau and his descendants in the future events to come. How could you say then that Esau is a saved believer? that is impossible)

    1. Jacob must have been mistaken when he said he saw the face of God in Esau. 😉 Do you think a reprobate can show such godly forgiveness and lend support to his previous “enemy”? Why think the worse?

      Edom was doomed as a nation and Israel blessed, but neither was the salvation or damnation of everyone in those nations guarenteed. Deuteronomy 23:7-8 NKJV — “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. “The children of the third generation born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.”

      Matthew 5:7 NKJV — Blessed are the merciful,
      For they shall obtain mercy.

      1. brianwagner asks, “Do you think a reprobate can show such godly forgiveness and lend support to his previous “enemy”? ”

        Perhaps, God was working in him to accomplish His purpose. Absent that, could any reprobate show “godly” forgiveness?

        Matthew Henry suggests “face of God” as an idiom.

      2. Brian posted this one:

        “Jacob must have been mistaken when he said he saw the face of God in Esau. 😉 Do you think a reprobate can show such godly forgiveness and lend support to his previous “enemy”? Why think the worse?”

        ——–Here’s My Response——–

        Brian, you might be referring to Genesis 33:10 And Jacob said, “No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present, in as much as I have seen your face as though I have seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me.”

        1. The verse above you might be referring to does not give any assurance of Esau being saved. Remember that Jacob was so afraid with Esau’s revenge on him and his family. Jacob was in the state of wooing Esau so that we cannot rely too much on his statement of “seeing God” on his brother’s face. It would be erroneous for us to make use of this statement to build a connection with this to the doctrine of Salvation. He even insisted to give Esau a bribe to appease his anger for his stealing the birthright.

        2. With regards to Deut. 23:7-8 … the verse itself speaks nothing about Salvation. The context has something to do with those who will be allowed to enter the Camp assembly of the Lord as one of the prerequisites was that they are not supposed to abhor or hate an Edomite nor an Egyptian.

        3. Esau fell short of God’s grace and a profane person. There was nothing left blessing left for Esau. – Hebrews 12:14-17.

        4. There is a strife between the twin brothers which have no endings that it begins from the womb up to their adulthood and marriage life- Genesis 27:40

        5. Israel (Jacob) was described as the “Apple of God’s Eye”. Esau-Edom has wage a perpetual war against Jacob’s descendants. In doing so, Esau-Edom has in effect declared war against God. – Zechariah 2:8

        6. Esau bound himself by marriage with the people of Canaan, i.e,: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hettite; Aholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hevite. – Genesis 36:2

        7. Esau had multiple wives including the daughter of Ishmael (the Father of the Muslims) named “Mahalath”- Genesis 28:9

        8. Esau made an ally with Nebuchadnezzar in order to conquer Jerusalem – Psalm 137:7

        9. Esau had intentionally left the Covenant Community in order to build his own community. He left the former community of God’s favor within which to be found even including the grace of Salvation

  2. I have been reflecting on the goodness of God.

    The Bible says that God is good.

    Now if God —before time began — decided to create humans in His image and fully planned that the largest percentage of them would be created for destruction (no intention on His part what-so-ever to give them any chance to be with Him), could we call that “good”?

    Of course Calvinists will say “sinners deserve Hell” and “it’s scandalous that He even saves anyone” and this sound pious and deferential to God’s greatness and holiness. But is the above plan “good”?

    I mean, we can say “His ways are above our ways” and such statements, but can we…. in any way….from a biblical understanding of goodness….. say that planning to create someone for hell is “good”? If God immutably planned before time to give a huge percentage of His creation an (often very miserable) existence on this earth followed by a hellish eternity, can we call that “good”?

    If God is the ultimate decider in the matter…. and if He decided it all before people were even born…. and He decided that 90% of His creation would suffer in Hell (before time began) ….. it what way can we call that plan “good”?

    1. FOH writes, ‘If God is the ultimate decider in the matter…. and if He decided it all before people were even born…. and He decided that 90% of His creation would suffer in Hell (before time began) ….. it what way can we call that plan “good”?”

      Let us reply with Paul, “who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”

      1. God tells us to be holy as He is holy.

        God tells us to be good as He is good. So we look to see how He shows us what good is.

        God tells us to be patient as He is patient. So we look to see how He shows us what patient is.

        Some want to impugn God’s goodness and His patience by quoting out of context the Romans 9 passage. But what does it say?

        “God….endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” He even put that in the setting of the potter in Jeremiah 18-19, showing God being patient over and over with Israel.

        Why does God speak of patience….. if His immutable plan was to create them to destroy them all along? Why patience? No. He is patient….. but the ones that refuse His longsuffering are then prepared for destruction.

        Not the other way around….. prepared for destruction (before time began) and then shown a “phony” patience (as if they could change anything).

        That is not the patience we see from God. We see this….

        Numbers 14:18 The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness,

        Exodus 34:6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth

        Nehemiah 9:16-17 “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. “They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.

        Psalm 86:15 But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

        Psalm 103:8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

        Psalm 145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.

        Joel 2:13 And rend your heart and not your garments ” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil.

        Jonah 4:2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

        Romans 15:5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,

        1 Peter 3:20 …who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

        Deuteronomy 8:2 “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

        Nehemiah 9:30-31 “However, You bore with them for many years, And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. “Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.

        Psalm 78:38 But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger And did not arouse all His wrath.

        Isaiah 48:9 “For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, And for My praise I restrain it for you, In order not to cut you off.

        Genesis 18:32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.”

        Numbers 14:27 “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me.

        Psalm 78:41 Again and again they tempted God, And pained the Holy One of Israel.

        Ezekiel 20:17 “Yet My eye spared them rather than destroying them, and I did not cause their annihilation in the wilderness.

        Micah 7:19 He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.

        Jonah 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

        2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
        —————
        These teach us about God’s patience and goodness. Such a plan —before the world began— to purposely make 90% of those “created in His image” for the unique purpose of destruction would be neither “patient” nor good.

  3. FOH,

    Its one thing to take a portion of scripture and twist it to fit a narrative. Its another thing to take pleasure in that twisted narrative. God, in His own words, declares He takes absolutely no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Even then, look at that portion of scripture in context…

    Ezekiel 33:11 (NKJV)….
    Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel (the Northern Kingdom)?’

    Hosea 1:3-5 (NKJV)…..
    So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. Then the LORD said to him: “Call his name Jezreel, For in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, And bring an end to (or destroy) the (northern) kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

    However, this destruction was/is not permanent. Hosea continues….

    Hosea 1:10 (NKJV)…..
    “Yet the number of the children of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass In the place where it was said to them (the House of Israel), ‘You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them (the House of Israel), ‘You are sons of the living God.’

    The “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” is referring to the destruction of the House of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) as she was cut off from God when He divorced her (Jeremiah 3:8).

    So we see here that Paul is not speaking about the “eternal damnation” of individuals, which, for some unknown reason, seems to bring so much joy to our Calvinist brothers, but rather God is dealing with the House of Israel, the Northern Kingdom.

    Just an added note. The “vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:23) is in regards to the House of Judah, or the Southern Kingdom, who was not divorced (Jeremiah 3:8), but rather shown mercy (Hosea 1:7).

    Its really not that difficult when we just allow scripture to interpret scripture.

    1. phillip writes, “Its really not that difficult when we just allow scripture to interpret scripture.”

      Yeah, but if you live in the OT, you will get a different outcome than if you live in the OT/NT.

      1. “If I have told you earthly things (like grammar) and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things (like scripture)?

      2. phillip writes, ‘“If I have told you earthly things (like grammar) and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things (like scripture)?”

        Exactly – “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things,…” Jesus upset the “Israel” only apple cart – it was always about the gentiles also. Even Simeon knew this, “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’”

      3. Also, brother, if you don’t read the OT scriptures in context, of which Paul references (is Paul living in the OT scriptures?), you will more than likely come to an unbiblical conclusion. Hence, Calvinism.

      4. phillip writes, “…if you don’t read the OT scriptures in context,…”

        Of course, Christ was concealed in the OT and then revealed in the NT. The OT must be understood in context of the NT.

      5. Psalm 98:2-3 (NKJV)….
        The LORD has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

        Isaiah 42:6 (NKJV)….
        “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles

        Isaiah 49:6 (NKJV)…
        Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the (12) tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

        Seems Simeon had a firm understanding of the OT as well.

Leave a Reply